Posted on October 01, 2013 in Countdown

Shut it Down

The Government of the United States has officially shut down. We’re not all that surprised, but we did hold out hope that Congress might get their act together and pass a bill letting the Federal Government keep the lights on. No such luck: the last congressional authorization for the government to spend money expired on September 30, and without any money, all “nonessential” federal programs have been suspended. How we got here is a long story (here’s a partial explanation), but the long and the short of it is that House Republicans won’t fund the government as long as Obamacare is around. Yes, Obamacare. That law that was passed by Congress and signed by the President three years ago and upheld by the Supreme Court sixteen months ago. The law Mitt Romney campaigned against and Barack Obama campaigned to keep in 2012.  Obama won. Some might say that settles the question, but it’s not good enough for the House GOP Caucus. Just remember that this isn’t all political theater: it will have real consequences for real Americans, but Congress is counting on us to forget about it in the next election. And to think, this was the Congress the President wanted to decide on whether or not to strike Syria a few weeks ago – we can’t even keep our own government running.

We Can Admit When We're Wrong

Twenty years ago, AAI President Jim Zogby and the late Columbia University professor, Edward Said wrote opposing op-eds in The Nation about the Oslo accords and whether or not they would change the realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The articles were printed in an AAI publication called “Nota Bene.” Two decades have passed and Jim concedes that he was wrong and Edward was right: Oslo did not pan out as many had hoped. You can’t blame Jim for being optimistic at the time, though, the accords were very promising and ostensibly had the potential to transform the way Israeli, Palestinians, and the rest of the world viewed the prospects for peace. Jim, conscious of the caveats, believed that the Oslo accords could change public discourse and could subsequently change the harsh realities of the Israeli occupation for the Palestinians. Edward Said was not convinced. Citing a Palestinian leadership crisis and the distorted balance of power between Israelis and Palestinians at the negotiating table, he was all the time weary of the Oslo Accords’ ability to effectively change the reality on the ground. Though the late Edward Said turned out to be right, as he usually was, we’re sure there are many Palestinians still living under occupation today who wish he wasn’t. Jim may have been wrong about outcome of the accords, but their failure, he recently argued can constitute a chance to learn from past mistakes. Twenty years later , one can only hope that the will for peace outweighs the fear of facing the obstacles.

The Lessons for Tunisia in Egypt's "Ban" on the Muslim Brotherhood

Sometime between Syria, the UNGA, the Israeli-Palestinian talks, and the government shutdown – which went into effect today – the Cairo Court for Urgent Matters placed a “ban” on the Muslim Brotherhood. We don’t know about you, but many of us on the Countdown team have been to Cairo, and the word urgent rarely applies to anything in Egypt’s capital city. Must be a failure in translation. Anyway, the “ban” on the Brotherhood, by any measure, is no surprise. Since Mori was ousted in July, the Military, with popular support, has moved to suppress the Brotherhood, sometimes through the brutal use of force (which some people who are otherwise reasonable will deny). Some Brotherhood supporters, of course, are also responsible for stoking violence. So why do we keep putting ban in quotes (“ban”)? Because the court ruling does not exactly ban the Brotherhood altogether – for example, it doesn’t dissolve the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, but it does effectively rule that the Brotherhood won’t be allowed to hold protests. Thus, the ban at this point is not a complete dissolution, but an effective ban on external operations. In Tunisia, the events in Egypt over the past three months have not gone unnoticed. The ruling Islamist party there, Al Nahda, has agreed to step down amid increasing intense polarization in the country. Al Nahda’s pragmatic concession seems, at least in part, an effort to avoid heading down the same road as Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been effectively suppressed and pushed underground yet again.

Requesting Protected Status for Egyptians

With the situation on the ground worsening, AAI submitted a written request to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Egyptian nationals currently in the US. Most recently, since the July military coup, more than 1,000 civilians have been killed, over 8,000 injured, and thousands arbitrarily arrested and detained by the interim government. Since the removal of Mohamed Morsi, there have been systematic and widespread attacks against those protesting military rule, including women and children. There have also been an escalating number of attacks against Egypt’s Christian minority, which is estimated at around 10% of the country’s 85 million population. Christian churches, residences, and businesses all across Egypt have been ransacked, looted, and burned. The political and sectarian violence that has erupted in Egypt since the popular-backed military coup which removed Mohamed Morsi makes it impossible for thousands of Egypt’s most vulnerable populations to safely return home. Egypt’s transition period has certainly taken a toll on its population. And like TPS for Syrians, we hope DHS agrees and allows Egyptian nationals to remain in the U.S until these conditions subside.  

Netanyahu to Rouhani: Give up Your "Yellow Cake"

No doubt you’ve heard that President Obama and newly elected president of Iran Hassan Rouhani spoke on the phone last week as Rouhani was on his way to the airport after a five-day visit to New York for the UN General Assembly (UNGA). The 15-minute telephone call marked the first direct talks between top US and Iranian leaders in 34 years. Rouhani praised the US as a “great nation” – clearly a huge shift from the destructive rhetoric of former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Obama’s decision to speak with Rouhani elicited the predictable backlash from Members of Congress who are convinced that Rouhani’s charm offensive is nothing more than a guise to gain credibility with the international community in order to buy time while Iran continues to enrich uranium, which Iran claims is for peaceful purposes. Of course, only Iran knows its true intentions, but engagement with Iran is obviously not devoid of benefit. Both Obama and Rouhani agreed to focus their efforts not only on Iran’s nuclear program, but on other regional matters, most notably achieving a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Syria. A thaw in tensions with Iran could potentially be the only viable way to diffuse Syria’s civil war and prevent the conflict from engulfing the entire region. Today, Netanyahu unsurprisingly made the case at the UNGA against believing Iran’s overtures. This time, he didn’t bring with him picture of a bomb and red marker. He did, however, make a reference to Rouhani’s yellow cake (no, not the kind made with bits of pineapple, the kind that goes BOOM!). While the diplomatic breakthrough is shunned by right-wing pro-Israel hawks that have been pushing for war against Iran, we may be witnessing a potentially promising counter to the war mongering rhetoric heard in Washington.   

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